About the author
The six new contributors (Berman, Dickman, Keller, Kramer, Ludden, and Yost) stand out, along with 7 authors (Bangs, Chouinard, Deschner, Kennedy, Lidz, McEwan, Rennicke, and Robbins) whose essays first appeared in the 1989 edition
Richard Bangs, an international river explorer and award-winning author, is a founding partner in the venerable company Mountain Travel Sobek. In FIRST DESCENTS, Bangs contributes two compelling essays: Metamorphosis,” which depicts his naïve coming-of-age exploits on the Colorado River; and First Bend on the Baro,” about his mature encounter with death and remorse on a raging river.
Tao Berman has chalked up more than 50 first descents and today holds three world records for extreme paddling. His 98-foot shot down Upper Johnston Falls made kayaking one of the fastest-growing sports, and his uncertain path to victory sets an example for determined young athletes. Nationwide audiences know Berman via extreme-sports videos, Dateline NBC, CNN’s World Sports Play of the Day,” Sports Illustrated, and Men’s Journal. Through the eyes of writer Christian Knight, a senior editor at Paddler Magazine, FIRST DESCENTS delves into Berman’s courage and skill on a killer plunge. Writes Knight, He began kayaking rapids that for obvious reasons no one had ever attempted; rapids where a single mistake would surely lead to death; and that single mistake had seemed almost unavoidable.”
Yvon Chouinard gained international fame as the founder of Patagonia, a clothing and gear company dedicated to conservation of the world’s natural resources. But to outdoor adventurers, he ranks among the heroes for achievements in rock climbing, surfing, and river paddling. The charm of Chouinard’s FIRST DESCENTS essay, One Way on the Clark’s Fork,” is that it reveals the willingness of a renowned athlete to tackle an adventure that could fail mightily. Big wall climbing philosophy was applied with absolute commitment to the no-turn-back rock gorges,” he writes.
Whit Deschner combines merriment with hair-raising escapades, a talent that won him the Benjamin Franklin Award for humor in his 1998 book Travels with a Kayak. In FIRST DESCENTS, he takes the reader back to 1926 antics in Daredevil Al Faussett, the First Whitewater Addict,” whom Deschner quotes: At no time was I afraid of those falls, not even when the water seemed to be crushing the very life out of me. . . .”
Kyle Dickman has packed more boils, boofs, rolls, and recoveries into his short 25 years of living than most seasoned paddlers may do in decades. Having braved descents in more than 30 countries, he is a rising-star storyteller and photographer for National Geographic Adventure and other expedition magazines. FIRST DESCENTS showcases his Papua New Guinea run where getting there was not half the fun, as this excerpt shows: This isn’t the hardest whitewater most of the crew has run, but dealing with the stress of getting here, the hiking, the culture shock, the lack of paddling, and the ultra heavy kayaks has eroded our head space. Which makes the Pandi, in this moment, the most difficult river I’ve attempted to kayak.”
Bruce Keller has spent more than 20 years leading Mountain Sobek Travel runs on rivers in remote locations. He also organizes custom expeditions such as the hair-raising one described in FIRST DESCENTS. His cleverly named Al Copon,” or to the Copon,” recounts a gangsterlike undertaking getting on the Rio Copon, in Guatemala. We wanted real adventure with the possibility of unexpected results,” he says, and he got em. Something about the . . . river disappearing underground. . . .”
Payson Kennedy, an iconic figure among paddlers, has finally retired and enjoys gentle guides on the banks of the Nantahala River. But his heyday included founding the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in the North Carolina mountains, where Olympic-team paddlers have trained; and adventure travel in Central America and Nepal. His FIRST DESCENTS essay revisits the birth of modern river exploration in the Southern Appalachians, . . .when rivers were run with simple equipment, lots of nerve and energy, and not too much experience,” he writes.
John Kramer wrote Arctic Duo” about his expedition with fellow author/adventurer John Yost on Alaska’s Kongakut River. His evocative words hold true to his philosophy: I want to sear experience into memory with the hot iron of adrenalin.” When he’s got both feet out of the kayak, he puts his Ph.D. in geoscience in play, working as a licensed groundwater consultant for Condor Earth Technologies, Inc. in Sonora, California.
Franz Lidz enjoys renown as one of the top action writers in the country, signified by his George Steinbreener piece in Best American Sports Writing of 2008. A contributing editor for Conde Nast Portfolio, he also authored the best-selling book Unstrung Heroes (Diane Keaton directed the film version). For FIRST DESCENTS, his Second Descents” story captures the pandemonium of a crocodile-infested journey meant to be an uneventful second-string exercise on Zambia and Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River.
Brad Ludden started a kayak program called First Descents” for kids with cancer. So he does not seem like the type to write Postcard Pretty,” a FIRST DESCENTS piece about rowdy dudes who like to party while looking for a river scary enough to run in Madagascar. But that’s Brad. He himself started kayaking at the age of 9 on the rivers of Montana, and love of the sport has taken him to whitewater in more than 40 countries.
Jamie McEwan, a master of whitewater canoe slalom, won a Bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics, and placed fourth in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A Tibetan adventure to the Tsangpo Gorge resulted in two books, The Last River and Courting the Diamond Sow. On dry land, he authored six children's books, including Rufus the Scrub Does Not Wear A Tutu, a 2008 Gryphon Award Honor book. Mexico sets the scene of his FIRST DESCENTS essay, Santa Maria!”when his crew outwitted terror on rapids-bashed limestone ledges.
Jeff Rennicke plays his life as one long, soulful adventure, chronicling his travels and poetic stories in more than 200 magazine articles. He won two Gold Medals from the Society of American Travel Writers. It’s easy to see why, with passages such as this, in his FIRST DESCENTS essay Kobuk Solo”: As I wait for the plane, I cut up salmon with an old woman on the shore. Her hands seem as
bent and dark as slabs of driftwood, yet she handles her ulu, the traditional Eskimo rounded knife, with grace and speed, cutting two fish for each one of mine. A long time ago, she tells me, she paddled the Kobuk in an umiak, a skin kayak.” Between bouts of wanderlust, he teaches literature and writing at The Conserve School, in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin.
Royal Robbins, the trailblazing mountaineer and founder of the eponymous outdoor retail company, has known metaphorical lows (jailed as a teen) and literal highs (his reputation is etched in granite California’s Tahquitz Rock, Half Dome, and El Capitan). In the 1970s, he mastered turbulent water, but chose his companions wisely. As he writes in Sierra Traverse,” his FIRST DESCENTS essay that follows him and two expert paddlers down the San Joaquin Gorge: In 30 years of mountaineering, I had learned the value of marrying the romantic impulse for adventure to prudence.”
John Yost, a co-founder of Sobek (now Mountain Travel Sobek), has spent the past 40 years logging virgin descents from Pakistan to Panama, and he plans a six-continent whitewater extravaganza in 2009. In FIRST DESCENTS, his essay Rivers of Surprise” transforms an epic undertaking on the Indus, Hunza, and Gilgit rivers into an exploration of a proverbial Shangri La: . . . beautiful basalt gorges, dripping green moss waterfalls, serene stretches of relaxing water, hot springs, and fascinating people.”